In-house usability testing: making it work.

One of the biggest challenges in creating a new website or updating an old one is getting your entire team working together seamlessly. The trouble is that everyone in an organization or company has different priorities for the site.

If you want to see any ROI for your website your users have to be the priority. Working from within the bubble of your perspective it is essentially impossible for you to see the site as an outsider.

How can you take advantage of your workforce, or yourself, to find out how usable your site is?

1. Functional Testing

Before doing anything else ask someone on your team to go through the entire site, twice, and check every button and every link. Even one broken link will send your users running, and they will probably never come back. Here is a simple tool to do a quick run-through, but we recommend you still check everything by hand on the main browsers, Safari, Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer.

Now that you know every link works go through the site twice, and read every word! Yup every single word and check for typos, we recommend that you go through once reading forward and once reading backward to allow your eyes to catch things that you may not notice otherwise.

2. Typical tasks and most wanted actions

I hope that by the time you are ready to launch your site you know exactly the tasks you want your users to complete and have thought about making sure they can do so easily. It’s hard to look at your site with fresh eyes, so try this little exercise:

Make a list of 15-25 sites. Ideally those that offer similar products or services. Copy links to these sites into and email or text document, adding your own website somewhere near the bottom and ask a team member to go through and complete one of your most wanted actions. It may be buying a product, contacting you, signing up for your newsletter, learning what you offer, anything! The idea is that you are mimicking a typical users web surfing activities, and throwing the brain off a little allowing your tester to look at the site with fresher eyes. As a bonus you can also note how some of the processes differ, if the process on your site is totally different you may want to revisit the drawing board.

Do this exercise again with common actions like contacting you, learning about the company etc. Chances are if these tasks come easy the rest of your site is probably pretty usable.

3. Remap the site

Ask a team member to visit all the pages on the site at least 2 different ways. He/she may get to the about page from the navigation or from a link on the product page, however the site is laid out try and look at how many different paths exist around the site. Do they make sense? Are your users having to click on an internal page that is irrelevant to get to follow a link not found elsewhere? It is best, on a site of more than 3-5 pages to have at least 2 ways to get to every page, from internal advertising to links within the copy.

To help see the pathways you can either print copies of the site map and make note cards for each page, connecting them with drawn lines or string. Or you can use a drawing program to map it out.

4. Play a role

This is very silly, lots of fun and pretty insightful. And yes, it involves role play. Come up with 2 or 3 personas, or ideal end users for your site, if you don’t already have a few. Name them, dress like them, think about how they talk, how they sit, their favorite food, where they are from, what they do day to day. It should only take about 5 minutes to figure all this out. It can be helpful to think of people in your life. Now, what websites would you visit if you were this person? Sit down at your computer and pretend for about 10 minutes that you are Sally Schmuyekler. Visit a few of her favorite sites and then hit yours. Think about how your site plays into her world, and you will see just what your users want!

These are just a few ways to check the sites usability using the team you’ve got. At first it may seem impossible to look at your site without knowing exactly where everything is, but once you start really looking it becomes a lot easier.